CHAPTER THREEThe Woman
Blanchet smiles pleasantly at him. For the first several beats, he barely recognizes her. Instead of her one of her usual elaborate dresses, she’s wearing graphene body armor. It’s a flexible full-body jacket of interlocking plates set on top of pressure weave and rigged with a combat exoskeleton. He briefly wonders how she got it aboard, and then realizes that she was likely wearing it the whole time, under the dresses.
She nods at the chair. He sits down, hearing the hard locks click behind him. Her face is different too. No makeup or contact lenses, and her hair’s gone; probably a wig. Her face is sharper now, and her eyes and hair are dark brown, instead of blue and blond. What’s left of her hair is cropped down to a crew-cut. She looks much harder, now. He steadies his voice.
“Madam Blanchet. You’re not allowed to be in here.”
She smiles again, but there’s no soul in it at all.
“Please, Captain, don’t make this any more difficult than it has to be.”
She begins to move. He tenses his legs to lunge at her, and prepares his soul for judgement by any god or gods there might be. He has no high hope on either of these counts. However, instead of shooting him, she simply taps an invisible interface button, and returns her hands to her lap
He suddenly realizes that his own interface is still active. He waits a few seconds, and then begins to casually stretch, reaching for the security alarm. There’s a blur of motion, and he finds a gun barrel hovering an inch from his face. He goes cross-eyed looking at it. She speaks calmly, with a trace of amusement.
“Don’t even think about it.”
She doesn’t even look at him. He slowly withdraws his hand. She withdraws the gun, and taps something else. An error message pops up on his interface: no network found. All of the security functions and browsers turn grey. She’s locked him out. Another tap, and behind him, he hears the hard locks in the door disengage. He suddenly finds himself getting very scared and very angry.
“Who are you? How did you get root on my ship?”
She doesn’t respond. Behind him, the door opens and closes. He turns to look.
Charlie sees a crew member in dress uniform walking casually into the cabin. His heart jumps into his throat at the prospect of rescue, and then he suddenly realizes that he’s never seen this crewman before. The face is blandly handsome, and his uniform is oddly generic, without any of the usual indicators of rank or job. His eyes are dead.
The generic crewman walks into the center of the room and turns to face Blanchet. She nods at him, and suddenly, he turns red. Not flushed red, but bright, shiny fire-engine red. His whole body, including his uniform. As he does so, he begins to melt. Within a fraction of a second, he’s nothing but a vague, bulky approximation of the human form. It looks like a child’s doll.
Suddenly, Blanchet seems to reconsider. She raises her hand. The melting stops. After a second, the figure turns a glossy black, like volcanic glass. Charlie swallows, and looks at her. Smart clay. He is so fucked.
She nods at him.
“Captain Frost, please surrender your sidearm to Jack. Please don’t try anything funny. Jack is not known for his sense of humor.”
She almost smiles.
Charlie glances at “Jack,” swallows again, and pulls his side arm out by the barrel, and places it into the broad, bulky hand of the golem. The skin feels like softened marble. The golem’s smooth, eyeless head rotates towards him, then it turns and walks towards the bed stand, where it sets the gun down. Blanchet relaxes almost imperceptibly. Charlie glares at her impatiently.
“Now what’s this about?”
“I’ll tell you in just a second. Look over here please. Thank you, Master Cross. Jack, take his soul.”
Charlie starts to follow her hand, blinks at “Master Cross,” and then turns towards the golem. It’s far too late. The arm of the thing has already re-formed itself into a multi-jointed robotic affair tipped with a large scalpel and a hypodermic needle, filling with fluid. He barely has time to scream before the needle hits him and everything goes black.
• • • — — — • • •
Charlie wakes up curled up on the ground. His mouth is dry, his throat hurts, and He reaches up and touches it. There’s a layer of some kind of flesh-toned bandage over what is probably a head wound, right behind his ear. They did something to his chip. He briefly wonders if he’s the echo. He struggles to think of a good memory test. Capital of the New Kingdom is St. Jude. He’s on the Burgundy. His mother’s maiden name is Weiss. Nope, still Charlie.
He sits up, slowly. The golem once again remembles the crewman, and is standing in the corner. There’s a bloody handkerchief folded on the table next to it. Blanchet is smoking. When she notices him moving, she licks the end, putting it out, and sets it on the table.
“Captain Frost. You’re awake. I’d like to apologize, we had a small case of mistaken identity. I’ll return control of your ship to you in a moment, but first, I’d like to offer some form of explanation.”
Charlie stares at her. He’s under a lot of stress, and this is just a little too much. He briefly tries out a handful of emotional reactions, ranging from anger to pissing himself, rejects them all, and finally settles on ‘bitter curiosity.’
“What did you do to me?”
She looks faintly embarrassed. She picks up a small black box from the bed and hands it to him. It looks like a small metal ring box. He flips it open. There’s a small cavity in the bottom, and a floating interface. There’s a bit of blood in it.
He stares at her.
“It, ah, checks chips for consistency. We checked yours, and it came out clean, so we put it back and woke you up.”
She checks for a reaction, doesn’t get one, continues
“Look, this’ll be easier to explain if I start from the beginning.”
He laughs. Even to him, it’s a cold sound.
“Alright. Captain Frost. From the Christian New Kingdom to the Buddhist Wandering City, to their various colonies, even to the hedonist black states on the fringe, with all their various moral codes and perspectives, do you know what the only universal crime is?”
He continues to stare at her, uncomprehending. She sighs.
“Mind rape. In the Wandering City, it’ll get you incarnated into the body of a dog for a thousand years. In the New Kingdom, the court will just deny you resurrection privlidges and shoot you. Even in the black states, most polities will blacklist you if they find out.”
Charlie’s jaw slackens.
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
She pauses for a moment, then passes him the folded red silk cloth. He accepts it without comment, and opens it. In the middle is a small laminate card. It has the name ‘Jane Ada Doe’ at the top, and a list of aliases underneath. Including, at the bottom of the list, Adelle Blanchet. There’s a picture of her face by the side, and the gold foil stamp of the Queen, on top of the fading silver stamps of the last two Kings.
At the bottom is her rank: Knight of the Royal Order of Policemen, Special Detective, Security Rating Class 4. A small interface pops up. He taps it, and the chip in the card authenticates against the Burgundy’s crown blackbox. It comes back green. It’s real.
He stares at it for a long moment. His face is very red, and sweat is standing out on his forehead. When he speaks, it comes out as a shrill breath.
“You’re a cop?”
She seems surprised.
“Yes. I’m with the head crime unit. I’m tracking a fugitive on your ship. I thought it might be you. You seem the type.”
He flushes automatically. He’s still reeling. Not secret police. Not military. A goddamn cop?
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She plays mock innocent.
“Why – nothing! Only they briefed me on what you did on New Damascus, and let me tell you, you’re one sick son of a -”
”-Whatever it is you think I did, I didn’t do.”
“Amnesia and innocence are not the same thing. In any case, you did try to kill me.”
“I thought you were secret police!”
“Normal people do not try to kill secret police. Do you know what you did, Mr. Frost?”
Charlie stared at her silently. She shrugs.
“Since your chip scanned consistent, I’ve still got work to do. You can go.”
He starts to search for a response, and then something occurs to him.
“You called me Cross.”
She suddenly looks guarded. Then, she seems to decide to tell him.
Charlie sinks back into his chair. The room is suddenly very hot. He adjusts the thermostat automatically, and then realizes that his interface is networked again. He doesn’t do anything just yet, but files the information away for future reference.
“I thought he was dead. For good this time. I thought they got the last one on Los Dei.”
“Really, Frost? I thought you’d be right there with him.”
He gives her a look. She stops, and then continues.
“We got another hit. Looks like he had another backup in one of the black states, and he’s returned. It’s a mutant version, though. Slightly different habits. Took a long time to pin him down. This one is using accomplices, and isn’t as flashy as he usually is.”
“You’re sure he’s on this ship?”
“Positive. I thought we’d finished his last backup from the old days on Los Dei, but it looks like he’d made at least one more, with a two hundred year timer on it. Paranoid bastard. He had a casket in some woman’s basement. His manservant’s granddaughter, or something like that. He was wearing her body for a while before someone found out, and he’s been running since then.”
Charlie exhales slowly.
“So he’s wearing somebody on the ship.”
“Probably. He’s mind raped at least a dozen people since the first woman. Thank god this one doesn’t seem to be able to make copies of himself.”
“I’ll need check the deadheaders, though. We found the last one unchipped with a ticket for this ship on the Damascus hub. I don’t think he knew I was following him, so he might have tried to escape quietly by deadheading the whole way. ”
“Okay. Yes. We can go down now, the ship’ll be empty. I can’t let the crew find out, though. You should change. I think I have-”
There’s an odd noise. He turns around. “Jack” has turned red again. He places one hand on the chest of her armor. Charlie starts to try to find some comment, and then Jack splits in two. It’s a perfectly clean break. The second half flows smoothly onto her body, forming the rough shape of a dress. A large piece breaks off and winds up her neck like a snake, blooming into shiny red hair hanging down her head. Two tiny globs roll up her face and settle on top of her eyes. The hair and dress gain detail and solidify into their final colors. A thin red sheen appears on her face, and becomes makeup. She looks at him with smooth, shiny red eyeballs. After a second, they turn into regular blue eyes.
She looks normal again. She slips the gun into one of her pockets, gets her badge and the box back from Charlie, and puts them away. She points at the remains of “Jack.”
“Jack, go home.”
The half-golem turns red again, and then explodes into a tower of tiny black specks, vanishing instantly into a swarming mound that collapses onto the floor like a fluid, and then swarmes up the wall into the air vent, where it vanishes. Charlie can’t quite suppress a shudder. So much for sleeping at night.
She glances at him.
He starts to step back to let her through, but she shakes her head and points.
“You first, Frost. I read your file.”
He gives her a long look, but goes first. He’s still sweating as he follows Blanchet out of the cabin. As soon as his critical duties are over, he’s going to go back to his cabin and have a nervous breakdown. He can’t wait until this ship, the genocidal body-hopping serial killer, and most particularly Adelle Blanchet are no longer his problem. Let someone else deal with Cross.
The ship is very quiet. She allows him to open the barricade doors to the passenger deck, presumably to let him to recoup a little bit of ego. It doesn’t help. He’s nervous, on the lookout for body-hopping sociopaths around corner, but there’s nobody there. It’s the quietest hour of the night. Too late for the drunkards, too early for the morning people. It’s rather peaceful, and he feels himself start to relax a little. He suddenly realizes that he never recovered his firearm. It then occurs to him that Blanchet is wearing about twenty five kilograms of one of the most effective weapons ever built. It doesn’t comfort him as much as you’d think.
When they get into the elevator, he keys in his override code to take her down too. She seems to have returned root control to him. He makes a note to change all the keys and go over security with a fine-tooth comb when he gets a chance.
They rise in the elevator until they reach the engineering deck. There’s an engineer at one of the desks, but he’s asleep. A thin line of drool is pooling on his work shirt. His glasses are somewhere around his nose, only barely anchored at one ear. Charlie casts himself across in the room in long, light strides. Blanchet walks quite calmly across the floor as though gravity were normal. After a minute, Charlie realizes that she’s using the smart clay to stick to the floor. Her hair and her dress behave as though gravity were normal. It’s slightly unsettling.
They cross to the large door to the networking room. Charlie feels a moment’s pang about letting her in, but then remembers that she has root on the ship anyway. He wonders again how she did that.
“How’d you break into the system, by the way?”
“I didn’t have to. I used about a kilo’s worth of Jack to get a direct tap into most of the hardware systems on the ship.”
Charlie swears under his breath, and unlocks the door by tapping a button to authenticate the lock against his rig. There’s a brief silence, and then the bolts retract. Charlie pushes the door open and steps inside. The network room is essentially just a long, naroow hallway, lined with the Burgundy’s server cabinets. At the very end, there’s a large shelf with a solid state memory unit built into one side, the live archive on the other. The monolithic black slab of the crown black box is on the other.
Charlie stops in front of the live archive. He locates the large black button and pushes it. There’s a click, and the pane on the front rises up, revealing row after row small, three-centimeter-long slots, with the edge of a chip protruding from each one.
He turns to Blanchet.
“We can check them all for consistency, if that device of yours still works.”
She just stares grimly at the chips under the flat lights.
“I don’t think we need to.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s one missing.”
He squints, and looks closer. Towards the bottom of the shelf, the eighth slot on the fifteenth row is empty. He exhales slowly. They were booked up. That means that he’s loose in the ship. Joseph Cross is loose in the ship.
He pulls up his interface, and opens a general data overlay window. It unrolls, and he positions it in space on top of the live archive. After a second, a series of tags unroll, showing the data assigned to each slot. He squints.
“The missing chip was logged under an Om Gerald Rod.”
“Must’ve taken another identity before he left. Once we get to Ilium, I’ll have to tell them to investigate Om Rod. It’ll be a couple of weeks before they get it, though.”
“That’s assuming they still have laser link stations.”
“Why, what do you think happened to them?”
“I don’t know, but it was bad enough to send a distress call with nuclear weapons.”
She seems about to comment on that, but he cuts her off.
“I’ve gotten nothing back, and I’ve been bouncing radio off them since we saw the distress signal.”
She’s quiet for a moment.
“Nothing. Not even the radio noise you’d expect from a living colony. I even tried to contact the local black state, Magus Station. Nothing, they’ve gone dark too. The whole system is quiet.”
She seems genuinely perturbed.
“So, what, they’re gone? A half a million humans, just wiped off the map?”
“I don’t know, but I think we have to prepare for that possibility.”
“What could even do that?”
“I don’t know.”
She pauses, and then seems to re-evaluate.
“In the short term, though, we still have a problem.”
She glances at the empty slot.
“Two problems, now.”
“How do you mean?”
“Chips don’t get up and walk away. So now we’ve got to deal with whoever he imprinted onto, and his accomplice. Both of them could be anybody. I’d guess someone in the crew. How’s your XO been acting lately?”
Charlie feels his chest clench.
“Um. I haven’t noticed anything. How good is Cross?”
“Good. Not perfect, but good.”
“So what do we do? Sedate everyone and check them for consistency?”
She considers this.
“Well, we could just kill everyone, check their chips, and resurrect them if they turn out okay.”
Charlie considers that.
“I think Morningstar would have me shot, but it could be worth it. You think that would work?”
She considers the question.
“No. No, not really. This is the guy who made eighty two backups of himself. He hid one backup system in a shallow grave behind his grandmother’s house. I don’t think just popping an airlock is going to be enough to off him.”
Charlie glances at her.
“So what’s your plan?”
“We wait. Sitting still for weeks on end is not in his nature. He’ll make a mistake sooner or later. If he doesn’t, we can just lock down the ship and wait for police backup. Either way, he’s dead.”
Charlie considers this.
“I’ll have to tell the captain about this when he wakes up.”
“Oh. Yes. Forgot about that. I’ll speak to him as well. ”
“So can I go now?”
“Are you going to try to kill me? Again?”
“I have a feeling your friend ‘Jack’ might intercede.”
“Most likely. You didn’t answer my question. ”
“No, I’m not. The first time I thought you were secret police here to assassinate me. I am sorry about that. I’m not going to try again. I am going to go to the ship’s bar and get a drink. Then I’m going to go back to my room and stay up all night thinking about who on this ship is Joseph Cross.”
She laughs, and starts to leave. Suddenly, she loses her balance, and catches herself on a railing. She rubs her head and grunts under her breath. He leans forward.
She waves him off.
She gags, and spits something watery onto the floor.
“I can get the doctor, if you-”
She drags herself upright, shakes herself, and walks out the door. She’s already taken the elevator down to the passenger deck by the time he finishes picking his way across the room. By the time the elevator returns and he gets to the passenger deck, she’s long gone. He doesn’t follow her.
• • • — — — • • •
Charlie enters the hotel bar room. It’s not large; not much on the ship is. There are three or four booths towards the back, and a narrow bar. The bar is tended by a Turing aersona. He looks a lot like Jeeves, but the voice and dress are a little different, and it’s coded a little differently. At this time of night, the bar is mostly empty. There’s a doctor from New Rome sitting at one of the tables in the back, and there’s a woman sitting at the bar. As he walks up to her, he realizes that it’s his CO. She’s off duty and out of uniform, and looks different.
He sits down at the bar next to her. The Turing persona is talking with her. It notices him, and splits in two. The second instance walks up to him. It speaks in a voice with friendly intonation, but still somewhat flat.
“Hi Captain Frost. What’ll you have?”
“Hi, Il bartender. Uh, gin and tonic? Lots of gin. In fact, just gin. No ice.”
The bar tender smiles flatly. It gestures at a rack of glasses. Charlie picks one up, and places it under the tap. After a few seconds, the fluid assembler makes a humming noise, and spits out a watery brown fluid. Charlie downs it in a gulp, feeling the heat settle in his gut. Breathing out ethanol fumes, he gestures for a refill. Bell notices him, and nods.
She glances at the scotch being refilled.
He laughs, coughing a little, and shakes his head.
“You have no idea.”
“Anything you can tell me about?”
“Nothing I can tell me about. What’re you doing here, anyway? It’s late.”
“Early. Getting less so, actually. People will be up in an hour or two.”
“Right. Of course.”
“It’s just the detour. I have things waiting for me in the New Kingdom. This was supposed to be my last flight with the Burgundy.”
She suddenly seems to remember who she’s talking to, and hastily adds,
“Not that it’s your fault, sir. It’s the right thing to do. Just inconvenient, is all.”
“Yes, it really is.”
“What do you think we’re going to find out there?”
“I don’t know, I really don’t. I don’t think I can fool myself into expecting anything good, though.”
She takes a drink of something clear.
“I hope they’re okay. I have family there. Not close, but still family.”
He looks at her, and suddenly finds himself wondering whether Joseph Cross is in that head of hers. No way to be sure. After a few seconds, he concludes that, at this particular moment, it doesn’t matter. He might have to kill her at some point in the future, but for now, the only sensible thing to do is to be kind.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I hope they’re alright. Listen, Il Bell. I wanted to thank you for handling the transition gracefully. It isn’t easy to suddenly be under a new command, and you’ve handled it better than you could have been expected to.”
She shakes her head vigorously.
“No, it’s not much at all. Adams is a good man, but not a very good Captain after his accident. Probably shouldn’t have said that. Oh well. You’re very good, and you have my respect. If you were with us longer, I think the others would come to feel the same way.”
“Thank you, Il Bell.”
“Welcome. I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Captain.”
She drops her cup into the recycler bin, and walks unsteadily out of the bar. Charlie doesn’t finish his before dumping it as well. He heads back to his room. He’s suddenly very tired.
• • • — — — • • •
In his room, Charlie re-assembles his side arm and places a motion sensor in the vents, just in case. He makes a mental note to draw some radioactive coolant from the engine and spray it in the door workings, just to kill the bits of “Jack” that are breaking and completing circuits outside his control. He even briefly considers intentionally altering the fusion cycle of the engines to pulse the ship with hard radiation. It would kill them all, but it’d definitely cook Jack, too. He writes another script for the purpose, and buries it in the ship’s system files. He’ll keep that one on the back burner, just in case. More trouble than it’s worth now.
Now that the adrenaline is wearing off, he’s reflecting that, all things considered, his position is better than it was yesterday. At least Blanchet isn’t here to dissapear him. She might still shoot him on general principals, but somehow it’s not as bad if it’s personal.
He walks to the captain’s bookshelf. This is the old co-pilot’s cabin, but it does have some luxuries. The book shelf is one of them. He gets up, and opens it. He had a substantial library of shiny new books fabricated to fill it, but, stuck in the middle is a book that’s really his. The cover is worn down to bare threads in places, and the pages are made out of real paper, not polymer. You can barely see the title, “The—-ntures -f Hu—rry —n”
He sits down on the bed and holds it in his hands for a few seconds, just looking at it. Then, he flips it open and runs his fingers along the cut edges of the box cut out of the paper. He looks long and hard at the thing inside. He sits there, just staring, for nearly five minutes before suddenly snapping it shut and returning it to the bookshelf, which he locks. He goes back to the bed, and lies down. He grabs an interface node, and gives it a spin, fanning out a bunch of menu panels. He flicks through them, unfolding a few new menus and boxes before he finds what he’s looking for. He pulls out a small green sphere, and sets it aside. He crumples up the rest, which collapses back down to a single interface node, and floats aside. He picks up the green sphere, stretches it between his fingers, and then double taps it. It expands to fill the room, flattening itself against the walls. Suddenly, it ceases to be an image, and becomes the whole world.
He’s floating a few feet off the ground at the edge of a wide forest. Blue skies float by overhead. Beneath him, a grassy plain falls away into a wide valley. He becomes distracted by his levitation, and double taps the bed, which suddenly comes into visibility. He sits on his bed, and looks up at the sky. The air is still warm, stale ship air, but the images and sounds were of blue skies and tall, ancient trees, and cold water, running somewhere far away. After a while, it begins to rain. The raindrops land on him, but he does not get wet. Still, Charlie appreciates an effort. He returns his eyes to the sky.
The first time Charlie heard of a blue sky, he was five, and he thought it was a joke. Skies were black, or they were ceilings. Why would anyone paint a ceiling blue? And then is father had started explaining something about light wave diffraction in nitrogen, and Charlie had gotten bored and wanted to go look at the dinosaur exhibit. Then his father had laughed and given him this consensus projection. Charlie had kept it in his rig through forty bodies and fifty jobs. He still uses it. He goes asleep under the not-rain, on his cramped cabin cot, between the trees under open skies.
Charlie doesn’t get much sleep that night. He wakes up a few hours later, with a nasty headache and a feeling like his flesh has been turned into dry rubber. He rolls out of bad and stumbles into the small bathroom, wandering blindly through the forest for a minute before he finds the icon to turn it off. He goes into the bathroom, triggering the light. A fan starts to whine somewhere overhead in the wall.
He turns on the tap, and slurps water out of his hands. He splashes some in his face, and stares at himself in the morror. He looks bad. His eyes are red, his skin is fish-belly white, and his hair is matted at odd angles around his head. His uniform is wrinkled, and hangs off his bones. He needs sleep. He needs a shave. What time is it? He grabs a clock glyph orbiting his wrist and holds it up to his face, staring at it. About seven o’clock. Almost time to wake up. He laughs a little, then stops.
He drags the door closed behind him, uses the toilet, and climbs into the shower. It’s a small booth intended to function even if the gravity dies, which is also very nearly too small to stand up in. He pulls off his uniform and leaves it in piles on the floor, and just curls in the bottom of the shower until the water gets hot. He doesn’t move for a long time, just sits there on his ass, his skin pruning. When he gets out, he feels a little better. He gets out, dries himself off with a towel, and has a new uniform fabricated. While he’s sitting naked and dripping, waiting for the fabricator to ding, he reviews the possibility. He already ruled out Blanchet in the shower. It has to be Bell. She’s the logical choice. Well- after him, of course.
Charlie isn’t sure exactly why Cross didn’t come after him. He would be an ideal candidate. No close friends or contacts. No particular combat training that Cross would know about. Maximum system privileges. There’s really only one explanation: Cross is aware that Blanchet is on board, and knows who she is, body hopping or no. In which case, he might strike first. Charlie takes a moment to bring up his interface and set up a dead-drop message to the entire crew, explaining that Cross is on board. In the event that his vitals die, or he goes offline for more than twelve hours, it’ll at least make sure someone’s looking for the bastard.
As he does this, he becomes aware of a flashing alert floating just out of his visual field. He grabs it distractedly and taps it, unfolding it. It vanishes, and Jeeves appears. Charlie moves instinctively to cover his nakedness, and then relaxes.
“You wanted me to remind you to decant Captain Adams at about this time.”
Charlie blinks, and rubs his eyes. Right. One more complication. He really doesn’t feel like explaining the details of this particular clusterfuck to the Captain. Assuming it’s still the Captain in the casket. He isn’t looking forward to euthanizing a brain-damaged vegetable, either. Still, has to be done. He glances at the Turing Persona.
“Jeeves, go away.”
Jeeves, without the slightest hint of emotional response to this, replies,
and ceases to be. Charlie stares at the clothing assembler. Christ, it’s taking forever. He reaches up and thumps it, hard. It dings, and the drawer pops out, with a neatly folded suit inside. Charlie smiles. No ways like the old ways.
• • • — — — • • •
After eating a hasty breakfast of milk, bacon, and eggs – well, perhaps not so hasty, Charlie suddenly finds himself rather hungry- and a mixture of nerve channel blockers for the hangover and modafinil for the sleep deprivation. By the time he makes it down to the resurrection deck about an hour later, Charlie feels much improved. He checks his sidearm in the elevator, chambers a round, checks the safety, and then steps out of the elevator into the room. It’s a little cool. The lead radiation shielding in the walls must absorb a lot of heat.
He sets the second uniform he printed up on the floor, then walks up to the active casket, waits for his rig to authenticate against it, and then looks at the icon when it comes up. Here it comes. He really hopes it isn’t going to be hard to tell what he needs to do. He hits the tile, and waits. The lid slides back. Sitting inside, in a damp casket, is Captain Adams, nude. After a second, the breathing tube slides out of his throat, sliding inside the wall of the casket. The needles extending into his arms hiss, and then withdraw.
Captain Adams coughs, and opens his eyes. He spits up saline, and glances around, his beard hanging against his face. The assemblers on the Burgundy are very nice, for the age of the ship. The New Damascus caskets can’t even make hair or fingernails.
He squints up at Charlie. He looks very innocent, somehow. Charlie sets his arm on his sidearm. That’s not a good sign. If he has to do it, it ought to be soon. Adams coughs again. His eyes get hard. He speaks, and his voice sounds very raw.
Well, he can talk; that’s a start.
“You were killed, sir.”
Adams spends a moment, thinking about that.
“Yes, I was.”
He squints up at Charlie.
“Who are you?”
Charlie takes his hand off of his gun, and helps Adams out of the casket, gesturing to the clothes. Charlie turns his back while Adams dresses, replying.
“I’m acting Captain Charles Frost. We’ve met. I’ve been managing the ship in your absence.”
Adams pauses behind him.
“How long have I been dead?”
“About three days, sir?”
“Three days? Why?”
“There were complications with the resurrection procedure. How do you feel?”
“Feel? I feel fine. Better than ever, in fact. Memory’s still a little hazy, but I feel – clearer. Say, I do remember you. Charles Frost. Eh. So, acting Captain Frost, what’s happened in my absence? Anything I should know about?”
He does seem better. Charlie blinks – perhaps a little brain damage was good for him, afterall; he turns around and looks at him.
“That, sir, is a very long story.”
Adams finishes buttoning the last button on his shirt.
“Is it? Well, you’d better get started.”
I think I'm going to have to abandon anything like a formal schedule for these. They're taking a lot longer to write. So, they'll still come out at a rate of about one a week, but god knows when.
Hope you like this week's update.